LRD Booklets January 2017

Case law at work - 13th edition

Introduction

Introduction


[pages 5-6]

This is the 13th edition of Case Law at Work, the LRD’s key source of information on recent employment law cases. It contains clear summaries and updates of important cases decided by the appeal courts, many of which are not contained in other legal guides. It can be used as a discrete resource and as a companion to LRD’s annual employment law guide Law at Work (www.lrdpublications.org.uk/publications.php?pub=BK&iss=1827).



There is a huge amount of employment legislation governing the workplace, from the right to be paid a minimum wage to laws protecting workers from suffering discrimination. While this legislation sets out the basic position, it cannot provide enough detail to cover all the circumstances in which it may need to be applied.



Courts are therefore called upon to decide how legislation should be interpreted. Their decisions provide a valuable insight into how unfairness at work can most appropriately be challenged and how, in practice, judges find a balance between competing claims.



The LRD’s annual employment law guide, Law at Work, is a comprehensive guide to all key areas of employment law, and includes many significant cases. However, it is beyond the scope of Law at Work to provide further details of the cases, or to include more than the key decisions. These further details are provided in Case Law at Work.



It is important for union representatives to know how employment legislation has been interpreted by the courts and how the law has been changed by recent judgments. Case Law at Work gives details of recent cases that have been decided by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT), the Court of Appeal (CA), the Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).



The system of legal precedent means that lower courts are bound by the decisions of higher courts. Specifically, employment tribunals must follow decisions that have been made by the EAT, which must follow those of the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is the highest domestic court, so the principles decided here will apply to all courts and tribunals beneath it.



In Northern Ireland, which at the lower levels has a slightly different tribunal system from the rest of the UK, employment cases are heard by industrial tribunals, which are bound by decisions of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. There is no EAT in Northern Ireland, but decisions of the EAT in Great Britain will be strongly persuasive in the Northern Ireland tribunal system.



The ECJ deals with the interpretation of European law. All tribunals and courts can refer a case to the ECJ where an issue is unclear.
The UK must comply with European Union law, and UK law must be interpreted so as to comply with European Union law as far as possible. In the long term, the future relationship between the ECJ and UK courts is uncertain, pending resolution of the terms on which the UK is to leave the European Union. But in the meantime, ECJ decisions will remain binding on all UK courts and tribunals, even where the case involves another EU member state. 


The tribunal or court reference is given at the end of each case. Decisions are published on the web:


• EAT cases at: www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT;



• Court of Appeal at: www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ;



• Supreme Court at: www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases (with decisions of the House of Lords, as the Supreme Court was formerly known, at: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldjudgmt.htm);



• ECJ at: http://curia.europa.eu; 



• Central Arbitration Committee at: www.cac.gov.uk; and



• Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal at: www.employmenttribunalsni.co.uk.


Rulings of the employment tribunal (as opposed to the EAT and higher courts) are not binding on other tribunals. Even so, they are useful, since they illustrate the kinds of factors that tribunals are likely to take into account when making their decisions and show how tribunals approach the decision-making process. Employment tribunal judgments in England, Scotland and Wales are not currently published. Instead, anyone wanting to search or browse a judgment must attend in person at offices in Bury St Edmunds for English and Welsh decisions, and in Glasgow for Scottish decisions. 


Copies of specific decisions can be ordered for a fee. Sometimes, where a claim has been brought with the support of a union, the union may be able to supply a copy of the tribunal’s written judgment. Reps should watch this space, because Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) promised that, by the close of 2016, new employment tribunal decisions would be publicly available online. A decision has not yet been made on whether or not to publish past judgments. This new database will allow the public to search for new tribunal judgments from England, Wales and Scotland.